My first experience with team sports was playing on my ward Young Women softball team at age twelve. I was hopelessly clumsy. Whenever I hit the ball, which was certainly never a given, I would run with track star speed for that first base, but since I almost always hit a slow grounder directly toward the first basewoman, my efforts were futile. If the coach played me at all, she would send me to right field, the place the ball was least likely to go. Sometimes I considered quitting, but my teammates begged me to come so they wouldn’t forfeit. Community obligation and peer pressure kept me coming; I prevented my team from forfeiting but I made them lose.
My dad, who is quite the baseball player and who had already garnered a few years of coaching experience with my younger brother’s little league teams, tried to catch me up with the other girls, but it was too late. Eventually I became fairly accurate at throwing, but unfortunately, baseball requires other skills, too, like batting and catching, and I just couldn’t figure those out.
I hope that my own daughter will not find team sports to be such a trial for her as they were for me. Luckily, she does not appear to have inherited my natural clumsiness. But just in case, my game plan is to start her in sports young, when all kids are clumsy, so she won’t be as behind as I was when I started Young Women’s and middle school sports.
That was my line of thinking when I signed her up for co-ed, coach-pitch baseball at the local rec center last year, at age 7. When my husband learned what I had done, he seemed kind of frantic, muttering things like, “I need to teach her to hit. She’ll need a nice mitt.” I wondered if my theory about team sports being lower pressure if you began young was actually correct.
I became more nervous when I arrived at the park on the first day of practice and saw scores of parents leading little boys to the field. When we found her team, a boy shouted, “We have a girl on our team?” Sure enough, she was the only girl.
“She’s probably the best one,” replied the coach. I appreciated the coach’s support but I worried. Would my daughter have to be the best to get respect from her all-male teammates?
After the first practice, we waited for my son’s T-ball game to begin. Another boy from my daughter’s team was also hanging around and invited her to hit some balls with him. I was encouraged as I watched the two of them play.
On picture day, a few of the boys told my daughter to get out of the photo because baseball is for boys. The coach did not put up with this behavior at all; whatever he said to my daughter’s teammates adequately shamed them into profuse apologies and ideal behavior for the rest of the season. Still, my daughter was devastated by the incident.
This year, I found her a girls-only softball league. I liked the idea of having her learn to compete with boys at a young age, before the boys got bigger and stronger than her, but I think she would have been more comfortable on a truly co-ed team, not one in which she was the only girl. So far, so good. She is enjoying herself and is already well beyond the skill level of twelve-year-old me. (Of course, that is not a very tough milestone to surpass.)